Industry experts share how they reduce food costs and address environmental concerns at the Talk Shop Live tour.

Sustainability is a hot topic in the foodservice industry, with food waste moving to the forefront of the conversation. While nose-to-tail dining is not new, the philosophy now extends beyond meat to other aspects of the food supply.

In its recent Talk Shop Live tour, US Foods held a panel discussion in Austin—a city with a goal of diverting 90 percent of material waste from its landfills by 2040. Hosted by award-winning chef and restaurateur Marcus Samuelsson, the mission was to foster conversations around reducing food waste in foodservice. Considering the amount of resources that go into growing our food, it is paramount that producers and operators use every part of an ingredient possible.

Gena McKinley of Austin Resource Recovery described food waste as a puzzle. “Forty percent of edible food in our country is going to waste, and at the same time, we have one in four people that are food insecure,” she says. “That’s a distribution problem.” McKinley says Austin restaurants have great potential in turning these numbers around.

Jesse Griffiths brings his passion for the outdoors to his establishment, Dai Due Butcher Shop & Supper Club, which features a whole animal butchery and strictly local foods from Texas producers. Griffiths, who is himself a hunter and fisherman and travels extensively, gleans inspiration from cultures where nothing is wasted. “There’s a lesson in that, and culturally it’s important as well.”

The panel also pointed out that reducing food waste isn’t just good for the earth, it’s good for an operator’s bottom line. “If we can figure out different ways to use everything that comes in the door, then we can better control our food costs,” says Tavel Bristol-Joseph, owner of Emmer & Rye and Henbit.

For example, he uses the leftover tomato pulp from one of his most popular dishes, cacio e pepe, to make tomato paste; bran from grains milled in-house are used to make homemade granola; and citrus scraps are used to make vinegars.

Both Bristol-Joseph and Griffiths said they use pickling, fermenting, brining, dehydrating, and other preservation techniques to make the most of seasonal ingredients, which has inspired back-of-house staff to innovate and think outside the box.

“We have been able to retain employees by challenging them to come up with creative ways to use products,” says Bristol-Joseph. “Cooks get a chance to come up with something new on a daily basis.” Emmer & Rye features excess product and small batch ingredients on a dim sum menu. Now, people can’t wait to see what limited-edition dishes are on the cart each day.

As Austin strives to implement its zero waste plan, restaurants are helping to lead the charge. “To get to zero waste, we have to do something about food,” says McKinley. “We aren’t just reducing food waste, we are influencing the flavor profiles of our city.”

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